Author: Greg Iles
I discussed my thoughts on Greg Iles and why I’ve read so many of his books lately in my review for True Evil. Much like the last few books I’ve read by him, Third Degree features a woman in trouble protagonist and a character who takes over for incompetent law enforcement officials. If I’m rating the characters in this book, I’d give it a two, as the two protagonists were entirely unlikable. If I’m rating the suspense, I’d give it a four, as there were several moments of peril and conflict that were memorable and unusual in their execution. I’m splitting the difference and settling on a three.
Third Degree is the story of a married couple, Laurel and Warren. He’s a successful doctor, she’s a special needs teacher. They’ve got two kids, 9 and 6, and a dog. On the surface, everything is great, but Laurel’s got a secret. She’s having an affair with Danny, a former military helicopter pilot who gives her husband flying lessons. Danny has a special needs son who Laurel teaches, and a wife that won’t give him a divorce and is willing to ruin her son’s life to keep it from happening. Laurel has fallen in love with Danny, as Warren is cold and distant and Danny is loving.
The story begins with Laurel discovering she is pregnant, with it almost definitely being Danny’s baby, and shortly afterward Warren discovers a love letter to Laurel. The majority of the story is Warren trying to discover the identity of Laurel’s lover in what evolves into a hostage situation. Danny, on the outside, is present because of his role as helicopter pilot for the police force. Due to his natural manliness and history in the military he ends up running the show for the hostage negotiation, all the while nobody but Laurel and Danny is aware of their secret relationship.
My biggest gripe with about this book were the awful characters. Iles tries to make Laurel and Warren sympathetic, but it basically amounts to “look how great these two are with special needs children, and they really love each other” but I’m sorry, I couldn’t root for either of them. Warren is a bit more sympathetic, once all of the story gets developed, but it’s still a Breaking Bad situation where the guy ends up committing multiple felonies very early on in his storyline at work and at home.
However, Iles also knows how to tell a memorable scene. Much like how he created dread in the infection scene in True Evil, I felt guttural dread at the scene when Warren takes Laurel to talk to their kids about what was going on. The presence of kids in the house also added a lot of suspense any time the law enforcement attempted to make entry or end the situation. It’s tough to tell a story like this where you’re supposed to be rooting for the adulterers, but aside from the obvious manipulation in the form of the special needs kids (who are never even seen, just mentioned) Iles did as much as he could to keep the villain interesting and at times sympathetic. Overall, it was an OK read, but more towards the middle of the pack than the top of the Iles books I’ve read so far.